“Should I go on a diet tomorrow?” I wondered to myself. I was sitting in my Air BnB rental on Labor Day morning, writing in my journal as I looked at the woods outside my window and drank a cup of tea.
It had been an indulgent weekend – I went down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and I’m a big lover of biscuits and barbecue and sautéed green beans.
I had all that and more – “more” included fresh sugar-coated donuts covered in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry sauces, deep dish pizza, salmon benedict, cinnamon and white chocolate scones.
It was awesome, and I definitely enjoyed myself. But on Monday morning? I felt pretty gross.
And so I said to myself: I should go on a diet.
This is a conversation I’ve had with myself before. This is a conversation, no matter for how long I’ve tried to eat authentically, that I continue to have with myself…
Whenever I have an indulgent week or weekend or dinner.
Whenever I have an event coming up that I feel nervous about.
Whenever I’m feeling depressed or helpless about my life.
And let me start off by saying: if you want to go on a diet, go for it. My number one belief about eating (and life) is that:
You can take care of yourself better than anyone else, if you are able to listen to yourself.
If your deepest, truest self believes that your life will be happier, healthier and better by going on a diet, do it! Sometimes, I truly believe, it can be the right choice.
But if you’ve tried going on a diet before, and it doesn’t seem to be working for you and making your life as wonderful or fabulous as you hoped it would be, can we just chat for a little bit?
[This is me, giving you some physical space to reflect on whether you'd like to keep reading]
Okay, I’m glad you’re still here :)
So, remember that thing I said above? It’s worth repeating:
My number one belief about eating (and life) is that you can take care of yourself better than anyone else, if you are able to listen to yourself.
Everything else springs from that. All that “make sure you eat when you’re hungry,” “make sure you eat what you really want” stuff…it’s all based on the idea that you can take care of yourself, if you really listen.
Why does this matter?
Because that I-wanna-go-on-a-diet-NOW feeling can be interpreted in two ways:
- My essential self has been bad, overindulgent, or just too fat and needs to be reigned in by a diet
- My essential self needs something from me right now and I need to listen closely
So let’s talk about #1 first. Because let’s face it, I’ve done #1 a lot.
Most of us have spent so much of our lives being told that we are not trustworthy. That if we truly listen to our deepest selves, it will betray us. Our essential self wants to eat chocolate until we don’t fit into any of our clothes (even those sweatpants with the stretched out elastic waistband).
With that philosophy, diets make total sense. Diets tell us what we should eat, so we don’t eat too much. Diets are a way of restoring order to our universe by outsourcing the decision-making.
Of course, there are all kinds of diets out there. (Again, if you have one you love, keep doing it!). Many let you choose your own foods or choose how much you eat, as long as you don’t go over a certain total daily amount.
But I would argue that even in those situations, you are outsourcing your decision making to a higher authority – your diet – rather than trusting in your own wisdom.
That is why I recommend that you don’t go on a diet tomorrow. Because in going on a diet, you are choosing to move away from your inner guidance. You are choosing to listen to the guidance of something else – the diet – just when you deepest self needs you most.
Your other option, #2, is to seize this beautiful opportunity to prove to yourself that you can take care of yourself.
Your other option is to wrap your arms around yourself because she is aching. To hold her tight and to say, “Oh honey, what’s going on?”
Your other option is to say to yourself, “Oh, sweetie, you need to be listened to. I’m sorry you’re feeling so gross right now. What can I do to help?”
And when you do that, you actually open up the lines of communication. You actually improve your relationship with yourself, rather than set yourself up for another cycle of over-eating and restricting.
When I over-indulged on Labor Day, I found that I just felt gross in my body. I saw that I needed to eat food that would nourish me and make my body feel good – some grilled chicken, a delicious salad. And I that needed some time to veg and be alone – I had been traveling and socializing too much during the month of August.
Did I need to go on a diet to make myself feel good in my body?
No, definitely not.
In fact, going on a diet would have made things worse because it would have put me on the opposite end of the restrict-overindulge spectrum. As soon as I “broke” the diet, I would be back in the land of over-indulging, even more convinced that “I” can’t be trusted, because given the chance, I always over-indulge.
But instead of doing that, I paused. I asked myself what I needed, and I gave it to myself.
This is particularly important because often the things that make us to think we should go on a diet have nothing to do with food at all. Often they have to do with feeling insecure or scared or nervous or overwhelmed.
Going on a diet can’t fix that.
But maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you would still like to go on a diet. If that’s the case, I’d suggest that you wait a few days. Four days, minimum.
In the meantime, I’d strongly suggest you do the following. Also do this if you are willing to put off the dieting experience altogether:
- Lie on your bed for 10 minutes and feel absolutely terrible. I’m sorry, I wish I could start this list off with something a bit more perky than this. I really do.
But frankly, if you want to go on a diet, it’s usually a sign that you do feel terrible and are trying to be all problem-solving-expert about it. Which is fine. I love solving problems, myself. But in my experience, the best way to stop feeling crappy is to start actually feeling crappy.
I promise you, if you lie on your bed and focus all of your energy on feeling like a worthless piece of overweight flesh, you will stop feeling so worthless real fast. But you need to really inhabit the feeling. What does your heart feel like to be so scared, overwhelmed, upset? What does your belly feel like? Your back? Your arms, legs, face? Does it feel tingly to feel like such a f***ing waste of space? Warm? Purple-colored?
Start as soon as possible.
- Write in a journal about what is scary right now. Diets are often a way to impose order on our lives when things feel overwhelming. Be brutally honest with yourself – it might have to do with your weight/body/eating, or it might not.
For example, sometimes I want to go on a diet because my body feels gross. But at other times, it is because I’m going to be seeing people I love or I want to impress, and I’m afraid they won’t love or respect me as much if I don’t have a more “ideal” body. Is that messy? Yes. Is it important for you to know? Also yes.
Journals are great for this because writing things down get them out of your head, so the swirling thoughts won’t last nearly as long.
- Ask yourself what is the kindest thing you can do for yourself right now. Sometimes the answer is “I want a turkey sandwich with avocado for lunch.” At other times, the answer is, “I want to do absolutely nothing except play Candy Crush all afternoon.”
Short of actions that would get you fired at your job or absolutely ruin your relationship with a loved one, do it. Move anything you have to do it – laundry, socializing, cleaning your apartment.
Make sure that your deepest self knows that you will be there for her. Whatever it takes.
- The next time you are hungry and want to eat, deeply ask yourself what you want to eat.
Just because I don’t suggest you run off and start The Zone or Atkins doesn’t mean you can’t move towards healthier ways of eating.
But I find that “healthy” eating is more likely to be sustainable when it comes from a conversation with the self, rather than being imposed top-down. So ask yourself: hey, what do you want to eat? Would something light and vegetable-y feel good right now?
The key is to use food as a way of being kind to yourself, rather than a way of punishing yourself. A salad with grilled chicken can be a gift to myself after a day of eating pancakes and burgers, or it can be a punishment. You get to choose.
And mostly, know that I am out there, sending you love and strength.
Because I’ve been there, and seen the other side. In my experience, if we choose to nourish ourselves, rather than running off to Weight Watchers or Dr. Atkins, we can strengthen our relationship and trust with ourselves in a way that is invaluable.
All my love,
p.s. Have you checked out my What’s Your Eating Style quiz yet? I think you might like it!